With the recent release of New Moon and the success of the television series True Blood, vampires are in the hearts and minds – and throats – of the public-at-large. But in comics there’s a new kind of blood-sucker – the bovine kind.
Comics writer and former Blog@Newsarama contributor Michael May has assembled three friends and artists to help him create an anthology focused on a vampire cow named – aptly enough – Cownt. First appearing in an anthology organized by comics writer Steve Niles’ forum, this bloodsucking bovine became a cult favorite for readers. And in a case of “ask and she shall receive”, May is bringing back the Cownt in this new self-published anthology titled Cownt Tales.
We spoke with May about this book, and his other projects underway.
Newsarama: Cownt – a vampire cow; how the hell did you come up with that?
Michael May: I’m a little afraid that people will assume it’s a rip-off of Hell Cow from Howard the Duck, but the truth is that I didn’t know about Hell Cow until long after the Cownt was born. Turns out, the characters have nothing in common anyway other than the overall concept.
My brother-in-law and I created him one night during a role-playing game we were playing with some pals. It was kind of a slow campaign, so we started making up characters for a pretend comic book about a group of inept super-villains. Neither of us remembers who first said “vampire cow” or came up with the name, but he was our favorite of the bunch right away.
Nrama: Tell us about that first story in the Steve Niles fan anthology, and the response you must’ve got to continue the character here.
May: I’d met artist Gavin Spence on Steve’s forum and we’d started talking about making this “pretend” super-villain comic a reality. We weren’t too far into it when some of the other forum members – independently of our project – said, “Let’s make an anthology!” Gav and I wanted to participate, so we quickly scrapped our plan for a super-hero parody (thank God!) and decided to submit a story with our one horror-related character, who still happened to be my favorite and had also become Gav’s.
Thanks partly to the concept itself and partly because of Gav’s hilarious character design, the Cownt quickly became EVERYONE’s favorite. People seem to respond to how seriously the Cownt takes himself while looking so completely ridiculous. The challenge has been to create stories that live up to that visual.
Nrama: You’ve got a great line-up of artists here – how’d you do it?
May: Gav was an obvious choice. Since he was the first real artist to draw the character, I knew he had to be the one to tell the origin story.
Jessica Hickman and I also met on the Steve Niles anthology and she’s been one of the Cownt’s biggest supporters ever since. In fact, this book getting done at all is due entirely to her constantly emailing me with the single word, “Moo’bleh!” When I was distracted by other stuff and not entirely sure what tone the Cownt’s stories needed to have, Jess encouraged me and helped me focus. She was another natural choice. Her story’s about the Cownt’s first vampire hunter, a lactose intolerant farmgirl named Penny.
The third artist in the book is Paul Taylor, who does an amazing webcomic called Wapsi Square. Paul’s a friend of mine, but he’s busy enough with Wapsi that franky I had no hope that he’d be able to do this too. Even now, with the comic completed and in the hands of fans, I’m still having a hard time believing he said yes. Paul touches on the theme of body-image in Wapsi Square.
Nrama: How’d you come to self-publishing this book?
May: We started making plans for the book at last year’s FallCon, but hadn’t made a ton of headway on it by spring when the Twin Cities area has another, smaller convention. We were passing out Cownt stickers and postcards there and fans kept asking me, “When’s the book coming out?” And they were really excited about it. One fan had picked up a print at FallCon and was literally jumping with excitement when I told her there was a comic coming. She has her print hanging in her apartment and when people come to visit and ask her who that is, she says, “That’s the Cownt!”
So, thinking quickly – or not at all – I blurted out, “FallCon!” as my answer. And did this several times before realizing that that left us no time to find a publisher, much less solicit through Diamond. So in this case, self-publishing was a necessity to make good on that ill-considered promise. Hopefully people will like it enough to warrant a second issue that we can pitch to real publishers.
Nrama: And for people who didn’t go to FallCon can get it, where else can they get the book
May: I’m getting it set up right now on IndyPlanet, so it should show up there soon. Or folks can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll also be updating the site with news and links to IndyPlanet once that’s ready to go.
Nrama: What else are you working on, Michael?
May: Comics-wise, Jason Copland (Empty Chamber, Perhapanauts) and I are working on a giant monster/giant robot comic. We’re still pitching that around. It’s a post-apocalyptic deal where giant monsters have all but wiped out human civilization. Most of what’s left of humanity is just trying to survive, but there’s a military group in Africa that’s developed a small team of giant mechs to fight back. The question the series asks is: since technology abused nature to create the giant monsters, can technology really be the answer to defeating them? Not everyone agrees on that answer and the consequences are rather disastrous. There’s a segment of humanity that deeply believes that we’ve brought this on ourselves and should just take our medicine.
I’ve also written a one-shot with Alex Ness called Jesse James vs. Machine Gun Kelly. A really cool artist named Greg Jolly is illustrating it. It’s not done yet, but when it is it’ll be sort of a What If? tale where Jesse survives Bob Ford’s assassination attempt and escapes to a Kansas ghost town where he retires and reconnects with his faith. The problem is that Jesse’s still a dark-hearted bastard and by the time he’s an old man he’s got a version of religion that’s deeply tainted by selfishness and prejudice. Enter a very young Machine Gun Kelly and his gang who are hoping to set up a still in the town. One of the gangsters is black and seeing him treated as an equal by the rest of the gang pretty much sends Jesse over the edge. It’s Jesse’s meanness and six-guns versus Kelly’s inexperience and Thompson. And when I called Jesse’s new home a “ghost town,” that wasn’t necessarily metaphorical.
Once we get those closer to publication, Jess Hickman and I have an idea that’ll combine our mutual love of pirates, jungle girls, and shark-people, but that’s a little ways down the road.